Truancy is more common in secondary than primary school. However, if it starts early, it is more likely to persist into secondary school.
Rates of truancy vary across the country. In 2017 the BBC asked young people why they truanted and a range of drivers were identified including bullying, disinterest, problems with peer relationships, low self-esteem and mental health problems.
Why do children truant?
The video (4¾ mins) in this BBC article records young people’s views of why they missed school. It could be a useful tool to promote staff discussion around building resilience and life skills to minimise truancy.
In a government study of primary school truancy consultation with parents and children suggested that children were more likely to truant because of school-based factors such as bullying, boredom, problems with teachers, avoidance of tests and peer pressures. This research also noted that parents of children with attendance problems saw regular school attendance to be less important than other parents.
Protective factors: what schools can do
- Creating a supportive and caring school environment is important as a bedrock for improving attendance as is cultivating school belonging.
- Good parent engagement is essential to help prevent and reduce truancy rates – communicate an open door policy to discuss problems and emphasise the importance of addressing problems early.
- Communicate the importance of consistent attendance and ensure that parents understand that this message is based on wanting the very best for children in school and in life.
- When working with parents and children, promote the benefits of attending school, identify attendance and achievement goals, and develop a realistic plan for improving attendance.
- Reasons underpinning each child’s truancy will be different. It’s important to find out what makes a particular child ‘tick’. What are their interests? How do they learn best? Why are they struggling in this way? Work jointly with families and with the child in a non-judgmental manner to understand underlying drivers and to problem-solve solutions. Where drivers are:
- Linked to challenges in the child’s life or to mental health difficulties, help children get extra support through counselling.
- Linked to school issues, work with the family and child to problem-solve ways forward.
- Linked with family pressures, work with parents/carers to explore local parenting support organisations and to access national initiatives to support families with multiple needs to help mobilise support.
- Monitor, record and make sure all absences are effectively followed up in accordance with the school’s attendance policy.
- Monitor, record and follow up absences.
- Where problems can’t be easily resolved through school-based support, multi-agency action is important. Truancy is an important focus of government initiatives focusing on families with multiple needs. These teams can work in partnership with schools to help resolve multiple difficulties facing children and families.
- Where a child is struggling with school interest and engagement, think laterally about more creative and interactive strategies for maintaining a child’s interest. For example:
- Using regular brain breaks.
- Introducing short circle time exercises to break up learning.
- Using drama, role play and interactive learning methods; making more use of outdoor learning.
- Including children in organising tasks in the classroom so that they feel that they are an important part of the class team.
- Making time to talk to children and ask them how you can help.
- Finding out and using children’s interests outside school and building on these interests to build relationships and support learning.
- Encouraging opportunities for learning outside of the classroom (e.g. see the forest school approach to outdoor learning.
- The less children attend school, the more out of step with learning and socially isolated they can feel. This can become a vicious circle. Consider whether having a buddy may help children re-engage and develop their sense of school belonging.